Inspiring Thursday: Olivette Otele

The Guardian referred to her as the “quintessential African European.” She is the first female black history professor in the UK, as she teaches the history of slavery at the University of Bristol. Apart from that, she is a writer, researcher, activist, and Vice President of the Royal Historical Society. Learn more about an extremely inspiring woman Dr Olivette Otele, who reminded many that black history is part of European history.

Olivette Otele was born in Cameroon and grew up in Paris. However, her passion for African history never ceased, and Olivette Otele actively explored the topic throughout her studies. For instance, her PhD dissertation explored the role that Bristol had in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. After receiving the Doctor of Philosophy status, she moved to Wales. Olivette Otele shares that being in the UK gave her additional strength to fight, which is something that was not accessible for her in France.

“Twenty years ago, Britain offered a space I couldn’t find in France. In France, I wouldn’t want to have children. I wouldn’t want them to have to fight, emotionally and physically. Britain gave me a space and a chance to regenerate.” – Olivette Otele

Although Dr Otele was successful in Paris, as she was an associate professor at Université Paris XIII, the world learned more about her work when she published the book called “African Europeans: An Untold Story.” Olivette Otele wants to deconstruct the notion that Africans have entered Europe only recently. Dr Otele challenges such “intellectual laziness” by offering a comprehensive historical overview that presents a connection that people of African descent had to Europe that goes back to the third century. Olivette Otele is challenging the traditional view of a “European” that is often synonymous with being white. Instead, her work inspires European BPoC to feel equally connected to both of their identities, as there is nothing conflicting about the two. Dr Otele is fighting for society to stop perceiving people of colour as either/or, “For me, they are completely intermingled.” Olivette Otele shared her thoughts on what is means to be “European” in the contemporary society, as there is a lot of pressure to be extremely loyal to one specific ideal of a person from Europe.

“Twenty years ago, Britain offered a space I couldn’t find in “Most people of African descent specifically, and sometimes those of Asian descent, are expected to demonstrate loyalty … They are made to feel guilty about being attached to the idea of being, for example, from African descent or from Caribbean descent, or Asian descent. It’s ridiculous because the world is global, Britain is and was a global power, and in the 17th and 18th century, those questions were not that important.” – Olivette Otele

Additionally, the book takes a feminist approach in exploring the topic, as the experiences of black women in Europe are central to the narrative. Dr Otele recognises that being a woman and a person of colour adds to the struggles she had throughout her academic career. She states: “I worked very, very hard and pushed. And I’m a woman. Men go faster than us [in terms of professional progress].” This is yet another reminder about the power intersectionality has on changing the damaging status quo. Olivette Otele is a black migrant woman in Europe, and all of her identities are equally important in opposing the predominantly white and male-dominated political structures.

Written by WAVE Intern Polina Lynova

Our last Inspiring Thursday: Azhar Giniyat and Women from Kazakhstan

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